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The networks are getting better everywhere - only with the railways there is no hope

Self-praise is an art that is well mastered by the mobile network operators in Germany.

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The networks are getting better everywhere - only with the railways there is no hope

Self-praise is an art that is well mastered by the mobile network operators in Germany. "5G network expansion is progressing better than planned," says Telefónica. Competitor Vodafone recently spoke of a "golden construction October". They used the "good weather at the beginning of autumn to further strengthen their mobile network".

And Deutsche Telekom also praises its network as the “best infrastructure” in Germany. But when the testers from the trade journals "Connect" and "CHIP" drive through the country with their measuring instruments, the cell phone managers also get restless.

The testers are used to the fact that mobile phone reception in Germany is gradually improving in all networks. But in one place this is not the case: on the trains. "The largest construction site of the mobile phone network is and remains Deutsche Bahn," says "CHIP".

The test experts hardly see any improvement in network quality in long-distance trains and criticize the high number of phone calls with poor voice quality. "Compared to last year, a few values ​​are even worse."

"Connect" recognizes slight progress in voice connections in long-distance trains, but these are "significantly smaller" in the case of mobile Internet. "Especially in comparison with the exemplary performance of the Swiss operators, however, there is still room for improvement with all German providers," judge the "Connect" testers. The criticized services are always the same: calls break off, the call setup takes a long time, Internet videos stutter.

At the last frequency auction, the network operators even had to commit themselves to far-reaching expansion targets for the railway lines: by the end of the year they would have to supply all main traffic routes and routes with more than 2000 passengers with at least 100 megabits and by the end of 2024 all other routes with at least 50 megabits.

However, the condition has a blemish. It is sufficient if a route is only covered by one provider. Anyone who has a contract with the wrong network operator does not benefit from this.

There is another reason why the testers on the trains do not notice too much of these expansion specifications. According to the expansion obligations, the speeds only have to be achieved outside the trains, not in the trains.

And in fact, much less comes from the network there. On the one hand, the passengers share the speed of the mobile phone cell, on the other hand, the wagons are well shielded from radio waves with all kinds of metal and other material.

This also applies to windows, which are coated with a thin layer of metal so that not too much heat escapes from the draft. Replacing these windows is expensive because the trains have to go to the workshop to do it.

But the railway already has too few trains. In the meantime, amplifiers inside the trains should solve the problem. However, mobile operators report that these devices often do not work.

Meanwhile, they have high hopes for another solution. They want to use some of their frequencies directly on the routes for which they have not previously received permission. The reason: You are too close to the railway radio, which is called GSM-R.

The cell phone antennas would then have interfered with voice radio for train drivers and dispatchers, the locomotive shunting radio or emergency calls. This is because technology is often installed there that is not strict enough in terms of frequency delimitation.

Actually, the radios should all have been replaced by now, with a few exceptions. The mobile operators had planned to increase their radio power accordingly at around 15,000 locations. But nothing will come of it. The replacement period has expired and was declared ineffective by the Federal Network Agency until mid-December 2024.

More than 1000 locomotives from different railway companies have not yet been converted, which, according to the network agency, is due to delays caused by the pandemic and, above all, to the approval processes that have not yet been completed. "That throws us back by years," said a Telekom spokesman.

The mobile operators have enough to do. "We have to close dead spots in mobile communications as quickly as possible," said Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing, who is also responsible for digital matters. "However, it is already becoming apparent that the coverage requirements will probably not be met by the telecommunications industry by the end of 2022."

A report by the Federal Network Agency to its advisory board shows that none of the three established operators Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefónica will likely meet the expansion requirements for 4G dead spots.

The comparison portal Verivox has analyzed the network coverage in Germany based on the mobile phone monitoring of the Federal Network Agency, whose figures are as of October and are supplied by the network operators themselves. Accordingly, almost a fifth of the federal German area is not sufficiently supplied with mobile communications.

This is where the “grey spots” are found. This means areas in which at least one mobile operator does not offer a data network. Against this background, Baden-Württemberg has the worst supply with a network gap of almost 25 percent.

"The network expansion in metropolitan regions is incomparably more lucrative and publicity effective for the operators than closing a dead zone in a sparsely populated, rural region," says Jens-Uwe Theumer, telecommunications expert at Verivox.

Even if the network operators show great weaknesses in the trains, the major network tests give them rather good marks. In the "Connect" test, the most renowned study of network quality in mobile communications in Germany, Telekom even achieved the grade "outstanding" for the first time. Vodafone and O₂ get a "very good". The providers are also evaluated by “CHIP” in this order.

Both tests are carried out with great effort. Both the quality of voice telephony and that of the mobile Internet in large and small towns, on the streets and on the train are measured.

In addition, the values ​​that actually reach the user are recorded in crowdsourcing analyses. Data from several hundred thousand smartphone users in Germany is evaluated, which happens automatically in the background via apps.

Depending on the category, the differences between the network operators vary somewhat, but Telekom can assert itself everywhere in the order. In the “Connect” test, however, Telefónica achieved the most significant increase in points this year with its O₂ network. In the voice rating, the network is even on par with Vodafone, only on the train does it show clearer weaknesses.

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